History and Origins
A legend claims that in ancient times the cashew nuts, which are really seeds, were inside the cashew apple. On the day of the forest feast, the cashew nuts got curious about the feisty sounds they heard. They pleaded with the forest fairies to grant them a wish – they wanted to step out of the fruit and witness the celebrations. The fairies warned them that they should return back to the fruit before the first light of dawn. But the cashew nuts were so entranced by the forest celebrations that they forgot to return to the fruit. They have been hanging below the cashew apple ever since.
The Spanish and Portuguese called these nuts caju which led to the coining of the English name Cashews. Spanish sailors are held responsible for the spread of Cashews to Central America. But it was Portuguese who introduced cashew nuts to their colonies in East India and Africa.
Cashew came to India via Goa during 1560 to 1565. The Portuguese occupied Goa welcomed the nuts along with the delicious fruit, and soon cashews made their way to traditional Goan recipes. Cashews reached Africa as late as 1977. Like India, conditions in Africa were also favorable for the mass cultivation of cashews. Soon cashew plantations sprung across the world including Australia and North America.
Cashew nuts are actually seeds which stick out of the cashew apples. These seeds have a pale green coating or shell which has a resin called urushiol. Urushiol is poisonous and can lead to some serious skin allergies. This is also why cashews are never sold with their shells.
Urushiol is however used for friction linings, in paints and resins and brake linings in the automobile industry.
Cashews contain a high quantity of starch which gives them a thick, creamy consistency when ground to a paste. This is also why cashew paste makes a healthy substitute for cream or cheese across various mouth-watering recipes.
Cashew apples, the fruit of the cashew nut, is used to make a lot of jams and jellies. The Goans distill this fruit to make the liquor, globally popular as Feni.